The aftermath of the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy has illustrated both infrastructure weaknesses and the strength of the human spirit. We’ve seen inspiring images of people lending helping hands and we’ve seen ghastly images of the devastation left behind on our streets. While some of those images have allowed us to witness the realities of the east coast from thousands of miles away, other images, many of them viral, are false representations. Contrary to what memes would have us believe, sharks aren’t swimming the streets of New Jersey and people aren’t scuba diving in Times Square.
However, contemporary urban legends don’t just surround natural disasters. Rather, urban legends are a rampant part of our society, touching every aspect of contemporary culture from politics to social media.
Have you ever seen the Facebook post that gives a privacy notice claiming, “the contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information”? Urban legend. The privacy of a Facebook profile is determined by privacy settings and the Facebook terms of service, not by any warnings someone posts in his or her status.
Have you heard that Obama’s wedding ring is actually a sign of his commitment to Allah? That statement is false. A quick look at the snopes.com page devoted to this legend shows a high-resolution, close-up photo of Obama’s ring, showing the detailing to be a simple loop pattern, not Arabic lettering.
Images like those of sharks in New Jersey and messages like the Facebook privacy notice continue to proliferate, with Facebook, Twitter and other social media breathing life into them. The problem is that the internet serves as a vast information highway, and just as there are bad cars and good cars, there is also bad information and good information. That metaphor follows through, though. When one shops for a car, one must do his or her due diligence in checking basic mechanical functions and specifications for the vehicle. Similarly, when one accepts and shares media, he or she must similarly do his or her due diligence in checking basic factual reality of information.
In other words, because the internet carries such vast resources, including plentiful resources to help us discern between good and bad information, we have no excuse in further propagating falsity by clicking the ‘share’ button without confirming the facts first.
It takes literally two minutes to search for some of the more common urban legends on websites such as snopes.com and truthorfiction.com. Taking those two minutes, though, prevents the spread of misinformation that can sometimes be harmful to our culture.
Trego is a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication and English. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.